Epic Australian Road Journeys – The Explorers Highway (Part 2)
March 14 2018 | Jade Walsh
Stage 5 – Kings Canyon to Alice Springs
Kings Canyon to Alice Springs takes 5 to 6 hours on the sealed Stuart/Lasseter Highway. If you’re towing a van ignore alternative, shorter routes unless you’re confident that your rig will make it over the unsealed surfaces, given the prevailing conditions.
Alice Springs welcomes the curious traveler with a range of outback attractions.
History buffs will enjoy visiting the Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, the museum for the Outback Medical Service of Flying Doctors and the World’s Largest Classroom, the Alice Springs School of the Air Visitor Centre. At each attraction you’ll gain a first-hand appreciation of our forefathers’ pioneering way of life, the pivotal role these early essential services played in our country’s development, and the heroic efforts displayed in overcoming outback conditions.
Many artists are drawn to the quiet and inspiring scenery of the outback. “The Alice” boasts many galleries and art centres, and is famous for its Aboriginal art.
If you love being immersed in your environment start by climbing to the top of Anzac Hill for expansive views over the town. Then explore the plants, animals and habitats of the Central Australian Desert in the Alice Springs Desert Park.
If you’re feeling adventurous, race through red dunes on a quad bike or on the back of a Harley.
Sporting types can relax with a round of golf or take a punt at the casino or racetrack.
For a unique foodie experience end the day in Alice with an Aussie bush feast, where the menu includes emu, crocodile, camel, barramundi, beef and kangaroo.
Stage 6 – Alice Springs to Tennant Creek
Heading north from Alice Springs, stop at Red Centre Wines at a place called Ti Tree. (Look for the sign advertising free mango wine and ice-cream tastings). The sparkling white wines and fortified wines made from mangoes receive excellent reviews and are well worth a try. (Remember to drive safely afterwards).
The journey north to Wycliffe boasts the rich desert colours of the quintessential Australian outback. The Wycliff roadhouse and caravan park claims to be the UFO capital of the world. Stay too long and you might get abducted!
Next, it’s on to Tennant Creek, a track that takes you past Karlu Karlu – or as white fellas say – “Devils Marbles”. These granite boulders in a sea of sandstone were believed to be the creation of Arraji, the Devil Man or Rainbow Serpent. In Aboriginal mythology these huge, finely balanced boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. This dreamtime story prompted John Ross, of the Overland Telegraph Expedition fame to quote;
“This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!”
You can hear the full story at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre in Tenant Creek.
The end of Stage 6 is Tenant Creek. Here the traveler can stop and explore the town’s gold rush history at the Battery Hill Mining Centre, cool off in the inland oasis of Lake Mary Ann, check out Kelly’s Ranch for a beautiful morning horse ride through the desert, to sample bush tucker, and learn all about the local fauna and flora guided by Jerry (the owner), absorb more of the history of the Overland Telegraph and the Flying doctors at the Tennant Creek Telegraph Station and the John Flynn Memorial, and nibble even more bush tucker while browsing first nation artwork at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre.
Stage 7 – Tennant Creek to Daly Waters
This stage covers 406.8 km and takes 4 – 5 hours. North of Tennant Creek you’ll find the Elliott and Newcastle Waters Discovery Trail. This scenic network of roads – some four-wheel-drive only – branch off the main highway to huge cattle stations, outback pubs filled with characters and World War II landmarks. Continue to Daly Waters, a tiny hamlet built around the Territory’s oldest hotel, the historic Daly Waters pub. It will be tastefully adorned with all kinds of memorabilia from football jerseys to bras. Contributions are welcome!
Stage 8 – Daly Waters to Katherine
By now you’ll notice by the changing countryside and the name of places that the climate is beginning to get wetter. 2 hours north at Mataranka you’ll find a natural, warm thermal springs known as Bitter Springs. It’s delightful for a family dip, walking distance from the pet friendly Mataranka Caravan Park, and you don’t need to worry about salties!
27km south of Katherine is Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park. The1499 hectare park is easily accessible from the Stuart Highway. The limestone landscape includes a tropical cave system and supports rare species of bats, as well as a diverse population of bird and animal life. When visiting these unique places, please take care to preserve our heritage for future generations.
By the time you reach Katherine you’ll be amongst water – lots of water. Stay in the area for a while to explore the nearby attractions – you’ll be refreshed and delighted. The experiences are world class.
Many activities centre around Nitmiluk National Park, home to the spectacular Katherine Gorge and other dramatic escarpment and waterfall landscapes. You can explore the gorge walls and white sandy beaches by foot, canoe, boat cruise or on a scenic helicopter flight. On the western side of Katherine and outside of the National Park, you’ll find Katherine Hot Springs, which is comparable to the hot springs at Mataranka, further South.
Still looking for something to do? Katherine boasts its share of museums, historic homesteads, artist galleries and restaurants.
Stage 9 – Katherine to Adelaide River
If you’re stuck for time, then stick to the Sturt Highway and you’ll be in Darwin in 3 or 4 hours. On the other hand, you could take a detour to the vast World Heritage-listed wilderness of Kakadu National Park, which branches off the Stuart Highway at Pine Creek. If you’re into bushwalking, would love to do a bit barramundi fishing or spot salt water crocodiles on a cruise through the wetlands – then the extra 3 – 6 hours travelling out of your way would be well worth it. Kakadu is also the home to the crevices that Dreamtime ancestors cut into Nourlangie Rock and some of the world’s finest examples of X-ray art at Ubirr Rock in Kakadu’s north-east. For campsites in the National Park check out: Kakadu National Park /Where to stay/Camping and caravans.
Had enough of Kakadu? You might want to cut back to Pine Creek to pay homage at the World War II township of Adelaide River. The nearby war cemetery holds the graves of service people who died in the 1942 – 43 air raids. Otherwise, take the Arnham Highway back to Humpty Do and then on to Darwin.
Final Stage – Adelaide River to Darwin
A final detour off the Sturt highway worth considering is a stop-off at nearby Litchfield National Park. The landscape is straight out of a jungle movie – safe crystal-clear swimming holes beneath spectacular waterfalls, surrounded by amazing wildlife. Florence Falls, Wangi Falls and Tolmer Falls are the headline destinations.
Back on the Sturt Highway views of the Timor Sea begin to appear as you wind your way to your destination – the balmy, multicultural community of Darwin, a city of festivals, markets, all the history of WWII and Cyclone Tracy.
What a country we live in!
Did you miss The Explorer’s Highway (Part 1)? Read it here.